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Mattel + MAC = Moola. Barbie and MAC Cosmetics Collaborate.

Cosmetics Business, MARKETING
Colour cosmetics - "Sorry Ken, Barbie loves MAC" by Sally Morgan

Barbie, Mattel's best-loved, famously controversial doll and Estée Lauder's MAC cosmetics have collaborated to create a new make-up line targeting adults. So how does this fit with the luxury goods market?

North Americans will be the first to buy MAC's new Barbie collection of bright sugary pinks, buttercup yellows and warm green cosmetics from 13 February this year. Europe and the rest of the world will see them in stores in March. With prices ranging from $10 for a nail polish to $20 for beauty powder, the prices would be affordable for teenage girls reliant on pocket money. Along with the packaging - the pink Barbie emblem added to MAC's trademark black - it would be easy to assume that this was precisely the market for which the line is designed. But these products are, insists MAC, most definitely aimed at 20-30 year old women.

For three years, Estée Lauder and Mattel have been negotiating the association of MAC and Barbie. As any half of a brand extension deal will attest, it's vital to get all details right. In order to entice and combine two disparate markets, the balance, focus and compatibility of the brands involved are crucial. Do it right and you effectively double your ideal customer base, in turn raising the profile and marketability of the brand. Get it wrong and you risk a humiliation such as that experienced by Burberry when it's famous plaid was adopted by chav culture, resulting in a temporary wilting of their luxury market influence. However, three years is a long time for such negotiations and these, industry sources have revealed, have been particularly tricky to finalise, with MAC being reluctant to sign off.

Image Conscious

Despite the market strength and longevity of Barbie, the brand has been the center of repeated controversy regarding negative female image. The doll has been pilloried by feminists as having a grossly disproportioned body. This in turn led to watchdog bodies vilifying her as a damaging role model for impressionable young girls. MAC's reluctance to court such negative sexist attention is understandable; to risk offending its customer base of, “professional make-up artists and fashion forward consumers… All races, All sexes, All ages”.

It's also impossible not to at least nod towards a slight unease at a seductive adult cosmetic product being based on a child's doll and the dubious messages this association could convey. As the cosmetics side of the association, MAC could be interpreted as exploiting the already fragile innocence of today's female youth.

Above: Original 1959 Barbie® Doll

There is obvious financial potential to the partnership of course and the combining of these two brands should wield serious clout in the marketplace. MAC was credited in Estée Lauder's last annual report for being significant in the $6.3bn parent company's 13% net make-up sales increase ($274.8m). MAC's Small Eye Shadow, Studio Fix, Lustreglass and Pro Longwear Lipcolour products alone generated $70m in revenue. The vast Barbie empire, meanwhile, generates more than $3.5bn in sales globally. And Mattel has already seen great success with its first lines aimed at adults with as much as $100m coming from sales of adult targeted clothing, mainly in the Far East.

Adult Audience

Both companies insist that their new line is aimed purely at adults, and are going all out to project this view. The line, named Barbie loves MAC, will also form MAC's spring range and is to be accompanied by a limited edition MAC themed Barbie doll. But this too, manufacturers insist, is aimed at their grown-up customers.

“This is intended to be a very sophisticated make-up collection, designed for adults - not children,” said Peter Lichtenhal, general manager of MAC Cosmetics“. He stressed that their target audience is definitely not teenage, but also that it was light-hearted. “It's a collection that's fun,” he continued. “One of the things that we do is bring fashion and glamour to the make-up market.”

Former marketing manager of girls' brands at Mattel, Annabelle Kuhn, thinks the new collaboration is perfectly natural. “Barbie has always been more of a lifestyle brand for girls, way beyond being just a toy,” she said. “Barbie's core positioning and equity revolves heavily around fun, fashion, glamour and aspiration. I would say that is also the core to the cosmetics industry and the luxury goods market as a whole.”

Various Barbie products for young girls are now well established including apparel, publishing, room décor and a fragrance. And there is a whole range of collectible dolls aimed at adult consumers. Kuhn was part of the 2003 campaign that first linked top-flight fashion designers with the brand when she launched the limited edition Armani Barbie. Since then, Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Sui and Zac Posen have all dressed Barbie. These designer dolls retail for around $100 so are clearly aimed toward a grown-up market, but at the rather niche area of adult Barbie fans who want to own a special grown-up version of their childhood favourite.

Above: Designer Zac Posen's Ken and Barbie® Dolls

Above: Designer Diane Von Furstenberg's Barbie® Doll

The Barbie loves MAC collection is the first time Barbie has been aimed directly towards the open adult marketplace. It's also the first time Barbie has been linked to make-up in a 'Barbie comes of age' way, and by partnering MAC Barbie then appeals to perhaps the broadest cosmetic market there is.

“The Barbie loves MAC collection is the first time Barbie has been aimed directly towards the open adult marketplace”

Above: The Limited Edition Gold Label MAC Barbie® sold out upon release here in the US and abroad in a matter of days. Now, they're selling for upwards of $200 on ebay. If you can find one.

MAC as Maverick

Above: Viva Glam Spokeswomen for 2007

MAC has a reputation as something of a maverick, revolutionary brand. It heralded RuPaul as an icon, redefining traditional notions of feminine beauty. And with the Viva Glam range, it has created an effective means of raising funds with which to award grants to HIV organisations. Possibly MAC is the only adult cosmetic brand capable of successfully approaching a collaboration with Barbie. While all other leading make-up houses associate their products with real Hollywood or fashion faces - Elizabeth Arden with Catherine Zeta Jones, Rimmel with Kate Moss - MAC dares to be different. Caroline Geerlings, senior vice president of global marketing for MAC said: “we pride ourselves on doing the unexpected.”

Above: MAC ads featuring Rupaul

On a corporate level, the links between MAC and Barbie are strong. Richard Dickson, senior vp of marketing, media and entertainment at Mattel, has a background in cosmetics himself. He was involved, as vp of brand management and merchandising, for Estée Lauder when they acquired This is an e-commerce site Dickson helped create and launch and he's helped smooth the concept of the collaboration with MAC.

Dickson, like Kuhn, is convinced that adult make-up and perhaps other adult products too are a natural direction for Barbie to take. “The core Barbie brand is distributed in many different ways,” he said. “It's the largest lifestyle brand for women. If you grew up with Barbie, the girl in 1959 is now 60-odd years old. This is a brand that's crossed generations, that has a legacy.” Executives of both companies have also expressed their surprise at the similarities in the artistic process used in the design of both Barbie and MAC products. Barbie loves MAC is all about evoking nostalgia in women; it wants to tap into memories of their innocence when dreaming of adult glamour as a child. According to Lichtenhal, “this collection is about the fun of applying make-up, and about fashion and style”.

Both sides are going all out to promote the positive elements of the Barbie brand and the fun aspect she will bring to complement the professional quality of MAC cosmetics. James Gager, senior vp and creative director of MAC worldwide steered his definition of Barbie kitsch by saying: “There's a classicism to Barbie that will never go away.” And when compared to such girly yet sophisticated brands as Pout, Stila and Benefit, the Barbie loves MAC collection appears well on trend.

Barbie's popularity is without question and, Kuhn believes, will eclipse any perceived controversy. She hails the partnership with MAC as “original and innovative”, one she compares to the collaboration of sport and music through Apple Ipod and Nike or Lambourghini cars with Versace-designed seat covers. Indeed, in the modern marketplace, brand association is steadily gaining on new product development as the ultimate goldmine of opportunity. Kuhn, who is currently brand controller of carbonates at Britvic and helped link, among others, the Pepsi brand with David Beckham, predicts that increasing numbers of big name brands will enter into associations.

Above: Barbie Loves MAC t-shirts sold out at most all MAC stores

She speculates that Estée Lauder's ultimate aim with Barbie might be more long-term and far reaching than just MAC. “It's brands with strong, succinct points of actual or perceived differentiation that will continue to enjoy growth,” she says. “I think the marriage of MAC and Barbie is a good example of this. MAC has a strong potential long-term concept layer while Barbie has many facets and associations. I can see a multitude of potential themes and product forms coming from this line.”

Barbie loves MAC is planned at this stage as a limited edition offer only. Head executives will not be drawn on whether they would consider an extension to the range, saying only that they expect the limited stocks to last eight to 12 weeks. But industry sources are estimating sales of between $8m and $9m in North America alone, with the majority coming from the cosmetics line.

Above: The Barbie Loves MAC Cosmetics collection now available at all MAC stores.

With grown-up make-up being the one area as yet unexplored in terms of Barbie's appeal, and 'mini Barbie's boudoir' areas being installed in selected outlets, the campaign is certainly not a small one. Gager commented that this cosmetics range will be a chance for women to “revisit fantasies [from when they were young girls] when they wanted to wear make-up and never could”.

After such a long planning stage, the limited availability time of just two to three months seems very short. Of course, this could be to inspire initial interest before a longer run is given the go-ahead. And if it's cult status that is sought, then this range, even prior to launch, is already well on the way to becoming iconic. One of the limited edition MAC Barbie dolls recently sold on Ebay for $105. The retail price is just $35.

Despite announcements that a Barbie loves MAC microsite would be available now through the US MAC site, at the time of writing this was still not accessible. However, cosmetic blog sites are already debating the new collection - a month before it's even available in the states. Despite MAC's cautious approach, the new collection is now the primary focus of anticipation for everyone involved or interested in the cosmetics industry. If the market takes to the new range as enthusiastically as the online community seems to have, the end result could be more a case of MAC loves Barbie than Barbie loves MAC.

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